Nothing But Zero, Pt. I

I’ve hinted, then stated that I had gotten a Zero electric motorcycle.  Had it for a while now.  Finally, my thoughts:

1.  Ergonomics

Really, if the bike doesn’t work for you, then it doesn’t work, period.

If there’s one word that sums up the ergos of my 2012 Zero S, it’s “motocross.”  It’s narrow and tall, with wide, flat bars.  This makes perfect sense.  As I’ve noted, motocross bikes are shoo-ins for electrification, due to the extreme maintenance a piston engine needs when running in the dirt, exposed.  Thus, Zero started off in 2006 making what would arguably be called playbikes.  For 2012, the Zero DS dual-sport is basically my Zero S, with the suspension jacked up.  That’s because the S is practically a motocrosser already.

You can just tell by looking that the S/DS seat is a motocross shape.  It’s long and flat, so you can trim your weight forward or backward.  It’s also narrow.  Thinness helps you slide back and forth, of course, but it also marks a ‘crosser versus a tourer, or even a streetbike.  Tourers need comfy seats of course, but so do street bikes to a lesser extent.  Unlike a car, you can’t really shift weight to your thighs, so if the seat’s uncomfortable you’ll know it.  In motocross, though, no one give’s a rider’s a**.  You’re standing on the footpegs a lot, because the ground is pounding you back as hard as you’re pounding it.  Between rising and shifting, you give your butt lots of breaks that make seat comfort completely secondary.

Seat height isn’t much of an issue, either.  It sounds moderately tall at over 33 inches (841 mm).  But again, it’s narrow- both the actual seat, and the framing and hard parts underneath.  It certainly isn’t a transverse four, plus runners/headers.  There isn’t even a traditional transmission to splay your legs out, either.  So that 33 inches feels a lot lower than it is.  My legs are disproportionately short, and yet I felt no need to get the optional low seat (31.1 in, 790mm).  The seat itself is narrow enough that you’ll be pressing against the frame rails in a lot of cases.

The bars are close, again like a motocrosser.  This leads to a pretty upright position.  Between that and the shiftable seat, I found myself sitting way back, particularly when tucking down at speed.  Bad news for any passengers.  The bars are also wide, with little sweep.  Not being used to motocross, this plus the closeness made my elbows stick out a bit uncomfortably for sustained riding.  It likely makes sense in the dirt, where you want a lot of leverage.

(Speaking of elbows sticking out, I was pleasantly surprised by the mirrors.  No one expects great mirrors, stock.  In this case, other riders had warned that the Zero S mirrors were pretty useless.  However, my stance somehow manages to keep me from seeing nothing but elbows.  Maybe I just happen to lean low enough to stay out of the mirror fields.  Taller or less-flexible people might want to buy aftermarket glass, though.)

Overall, the bars are replaceable at 1″ dia.  If you put clip-ons on this skinny thing, you’ll be lane-splitting like, well, Tron.  If you just swap the stock bars for something flatter, it’ll feel more street-standard.

Note that the stock bike has neither pegs nor grip rails for a passenger.  Being fairly lightweight, it’s not what people in this market would buy for 2-up riding.  The company has since come out with optional pegs.

In sum, the bike feels great if you’re coming onto the street from dirt bikes, or coming up from scooters or step-overs.  When combined with a light 300 lbs (ZF6 battery pack) to 340 lbs (ZF9 pack), it’s easy to deal with at low speeds.  I’ve been told the steering lock is a bit narrow for city use, but it hasn’t been a problem so far.  There will always be a situation where you want a bit more turn; it’s more a matter of you seeing the space and planning your moves ahead of time.  Too bad this electric model doesn’t unlock reverse.

This bike doesn’t feel great if you want an Interstate Lazy Boy, but if so then you weren’t considering this bike anyway.

A quick note: no exhaust roasting, no earplug ache!  No petro-stained clothes, either, but modern gassers with belt or shaft drive have pretty much taken care of that already.

2.  Ear-gonomics

Speaking of ear ache, aren’t electrics supposed to be silent, and is that a problem?

No, and no.  At the lowest parking-lot speeds, the bike might be close enough to silent.  At high parking lot or street speeds, there’s noise, just not that much.

The first day, I worried that people might pull out in front of me, and I was ready with the flasher or horn.  They didn’t, and I got over it.  Thing is, modern cars have weather sealing, stiff bodies, and damping and insulation.  (And mega-amps driving bazooka woofers, but aside from that…)  You just can’t assume other motorists go by sound any more.  Fire trucks now have absolutely ridiculous lightshows, in case Mr. Lexus is too into his tunes.  This is not just a problem for us electrics.

Oh, and I did encounter a blind person once.  Nothing happened, though of course one person, one time is hardly a scientific study.

So, what does it sound like?  Hybrid cars have tire scrub.  Here, I guess the contact patches are too narrow for audible scrub.  If you get the optional chain final drive, then that would be all you’d hear- a chain chorus of ticking links.  I stuck with the standard belt drive, and the remaining sounds are gear mesh and bearing/axle friction.

No gear is made with perfect teeth, all around.  No axle turns perfectly, even with bearings and lube.  Combined, these generate minor noises, which sum to a buzzing or humming sound.  If you don’t like these newfangled electrics, you’d describe it as a blender or sewing machine.  If you think electrics are the future, you’d describe it as a somewhat-quiet power tool, or possibly like some high-end AV equipment.  In the middle are RC cars, which are, well, battery-powered electric vehicles too.

Need a better example?  I instantly recognized the Batpod from The Dark Knight/Rises by ear.  Though of course, that vehicle only used two power levels: none, and wide open.  In real life, street vehicles are in traffic a lot and wouldn’t pin it all the time like that.  Oh, and the cannons and grappling hooks and stuff.  Yeah.

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3 thoughts on “Nothing But Zero, Pt. I

  1. Pingback: Nothing But Zero, Pt. II | cableflux

  2. Pingback: Range is more than Zero (or CHAAAAARGE!) (NBZ4) | cableflux

  3. Pingback: Receptacle Roundup XIIc: Rest of Asia | cableflux

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